American Plate - Bite #52: Oysters Rockefeller

Tuesday, March 14, 2017
John D. Rockefeller is heavily associated with New York City, but the Big Apple has pretty much nothing to do with the iconic dish that carries his name. For that, we have to jet to another one of America's well-known food destinations. In 1840, French immigrant Antoine Alciatore founded Antoine's Restaurant in New Orleans, and it was an immediate hit, which makes sense, given the city's embrace of its citizens' Cajun and Creole backgrounds. In fact, if you'd like to have a more personal experience with this restaurant, you can, as it's amazingly still in operation, having been owned and run by the Alciatore family since the very beginning.

Antoine's son Jules is who really put the restaurant on the map. In 1899, he created the original recipe for Oysters Rockefeller. Its status as a decadent dish with an indulgent, rich green sauce inspired the name; if you're going to serve a fancy dish as a status symbol, why not name it after one the Gilded Age's wealthiest and most notorious financiers? Since then, Antoine's has served more than three million servings of this iconic dish, and its popularity has spread across the country.

The fact that this dish was invented at and served at a restaurant is no mistake. When have you ever had Oysters Rockefeller at home? Some dishes and ingredients are welcome in multiple dining spheres, but these almost demand to be eaten out in public, which is exactly what I did.

They're deceptively simple. Oysters Rockefeller is just oysters topped with other ingredients (usually parsley and other green herbs, bread crumbs, and a rich butter sauce) and then baked or broiled. That said, I've never had two servings that have tasted the same. Every restaurant seems to have a different twist on this classic.

As you can see, the ones pictured above were served on ice in order to keep them chilly, and they turned out to be quite good. I like eating oysters in pretty much all their forms (on the half shell, fried, and so on), but Oysters Rockefeller will always have a special connotation in my brain. It's a dish to be enjoyed out on the town, and as such, are symbolic of a certain kind of fun and friendship. That's a pretty impressive accomplishment for such an unpretentious little preparation.